Auditory System Hearing Disorders Tinnitus

The American Tinnitus Association defines tinnitus as “the perception of noise in the ears or head where no external source is present.” A sensation of the ears “ringing” is a common complaint. Although connections between tinnitus and other conditions have been established, actual tinnitus causes and mechanisms are unknown.

Though tinnitus isn’t dangerous, it can affect your life to varying degrees, and it can even be debilitating in severe cases. If you have tinnitus symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor to examine your treatment options.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often described as a constant or intermittent:

  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Ringing (most common)
  • Roaring.

Tinnitus may be present in one or both ears, and may manifest as a high- or low-pitched sound.

Tinnitus Causes

Though experts have discussed many theories to explain how the sounds associated with tinnitus are generated, the exact mechanism is not known. However, tinnitus is a symptom that presents with a variety of conditions.

Determining the cause of tinnitus is important, as tinnitus is often a symptom of another condition. A hearing test can help to determine whether the tinnitus may be associated with hearing loss. Your doctor can determine the presence of other conditions that may contribute to tinnitus, including:

  • Allergies
  • Blood pressure or circulatory problems
  • Damage to inner ear hair cells
  • Diet
  • Drug reactions
  • Impacted ear wax
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Otosclerosis (abnormal bony growth in the ear).

Tinnitus also often exists with hearing loss. This is particularly common in people who have noise-induced hearing loss, which affects higher-frequency sounds. Both one-time and long-term exposure to loud noise can cause hearing damage. In the presence of sound over 85 decibels (dB), experts suggest you should use hearing protection, such as earplugs.

However, tinnitus can also be present without a hearing loss. Other cases of tinnitus are idiopathic, meaning their origin is unknown.

Tinnitus Treatment

If you experience tinnitus, visit your doctor to try to determine an underlying cause. If no underlying condition can be established, tinnitus treatment may turn to treating the symptom itself.

  • Tinnitus maskers create sound that interferes with the sounds perceived in tinnitus.
  • Biofeedback and drug therapy are other potential options.
  • Stress may increase the incidence of tinnitus, so reducing stress may help relieve the symptoms.

Tinnitus can lead to stress and difficulty concentrating or sleeping. If you are experiencing tinnitus symptoms, be sure to see your doctor to determine a course of treatment and to help you find relief from this unpleasant condition.

Resources

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Tinnitus management. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Web site: http://asha.org/public/hearing/treatment/tinnitus_manage.htm.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Tinnitus. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Web site: http://asha.org/public/hearing/disorders/Tinnitus.htm.

American Tinnitus Association (n.d.). About tinnitus. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from American Tinnitus Association Web site: http://www.ata.org/for-patients/about-tinnitus.

Mayo Clinic (n.d.). Tinnitus. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tinnitus/DS00365.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (n.d.). The noise in your ears: facts about tinnitus. Retrieved February 10, 2010, from National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Web site: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/noiseinear.asp.